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Horse riding in Ecuador

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People horse riding Ecuador

Horse riding in Ecuador

The final, horse riding part of a brilliant and in-depth blog from Andean Trails’ travellers Jane and Greg Windsor, who spent four fantastic weeks in glorious Ecuador.

We are horse riding today, having visited the Ecuadorian Amazon and cloud forest, the Galapagos Islands and Quito, with photos on Facebook too:

 

Horse riding in Ecuador

As we approached Otavalo and its colourful market, a large glistening volcanic lake came into view. Our trip north of Quito had ventured along steep ravines, down massive descents and up climbs, passing through several valleys, each with its own micro climate and vegetation. Otavalo is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura, Cotacachi, and Mojanda volcanoes where the clouds made the volcanoes appear to be smoking.

Finally we departed on our seven day journey on horseback with Gaspar, our guide, and Kristian, our Chagra, (later to be Cesar), with a spare horse, provisions for the day, cameras and ponchos. We started close to Lago de San Pablo where we followed paths and tracks in the foothills of the volcanoes riding every day from one beautiful Hacienda to another. Again, we were delighted that the horses lived up to the expectations that we had after reading other people’s feedback about them.

 

jumping horse rider Ecuador

Jumping horse rider, Ecuador

 

Rural life

The journey allowed us to come intimately close to rural life as we passed through small holdings, each with more dogs than people, a cow and a pig; land being worked by peasants in the fields as they gathered their crop and carried grass taller than themselves to the road and where one had a tethered foal for sale; and forests with shepherds and their herds of cattle or sheep.

We called into a retired weaver friend of our guide who demonstrated the slow and laborious process of spinning wool by hand for weaving using a traditional back strap loom. We also visited a musician who made his own musical instruments. Everyone was friendly, welcoming and had a big smile.

 

Dramatic and beautiful

The volcanoes surrounded us and the sky was big and blue until the mountains attracted dramatic cloud formations which clung to their tops.

We picnicked in idyllic, isolated spots on hill tops, in forests, in meadows, in glades surrounded by eucalyptus trees and by icy bubbling rivers, whilst the horses rested and grazed. The picnic was always followed by a relaxing, sunny siesta before mounting the horses to trot and canter onwards to the evening’s destination … a new discovery, another place steeped in history, another night with a log fire in our room and a hot water bottle in bed. This was luxury compared to camping at high altitudes on previous holidays.

One late afternoon, we arrived at Hacienda Merced in the Zuleta valley and within the Cayambe-Coca Nature Reserve. It is a dairy farm owned by Oswaldo and Diana, who are friendly and welcoming, and where we witnessed a cow that had just calved being hand-milked. We saw their fighting bulls in the outlying fields and in nearby lush paddocks we saw the stunning horses. The owners breed Andalucian horses and their stallions are kept separate from the rest of the herd. Kilimanyaro, the older stallion, and his son look handsome and, as expected, are feisty. As the horses came back to the stables for the night, they greeted each other with whinnies and neighs. Kilimanyaro stood tall and proud as he watched his mares and foals return from the day paddocks.

 

Cayambe volcano

In the northern region, we went up and over a pass, winding our way along small paths to a very narrow ridge on a hilltop with magnificent views. We explored a forest of pine trees, route finding as we went. The spare horse was let off the lead to ‘follow’. Knowing that it was off duty, the horse would seemingly ‘gloat’ to the other horses by wandering across their paths, kicking out at times and putting their ears back if one of the others tried to overtake. Our last day up north brought us into a small village square with views of the Cayambe volcano. The horses were then placed into a truck to head back to the farm for a well-deserved rest.

We drove from north to south of Quito, joined our new horses and contoured the mountains lining the Avenue of Volcanoes. We gradually climbed higher and higher passing through different landscape and vegetation until we were in Cotopaxi National Park (Cotapaxi is the highest active volcano in the world). Here, we walked, trotted and cantered through the very tall paramo (highland) grass, on uneven terrain, up steep hillsides and down into valleys crossing rivers, and following ravines, onto grassy meadows where herds of wild fighting bulls ran in front of us in the same direction as we were travelling. We ascended the hillside as far as possible to ensure a safe distance was maintained until we were able to pass them. It was both exciting and unnerving.

View Cayambe summit, Ecuador

View from Cayambe summit, Ecuador

 

All the seasons in a day

The wind blew harder and harder, the grass rippled and then swayed across the hillside looking like waves building up in a storm. It was warning us that some harsh weather was approaching. We donned our cosy, thick, stripy, woollen ponchos, but still failed to look like real Chagras. The squall brought strong wind and icy rain to the ridge causing the horses to walk sideways desperately trying to turn away from the driving rain. As we came down from the hills, we experienced another welcome season in the day as the sun appeared and warmed us through to the core. We made our way to the edge of the forest, across a stream and found a sheltered place for a late lunch. Here we drank hot coca leaf tea and dozed on the warm black rocks. With the sky clearing, we could see volcanoes all around us.

That night, we stayed at Hacienda los Martinos lodge which is situated on the edge of Cotapaxi National Park surrounded by the same volcanoes and with the most incredible view of the majestic Cotapaxi volcano through the dining room window. It was a mesmerising sight and our gazes kept being drawn back to the jewel of Ecuador, which appeared to be towering over us, as we relaxed for yet another special evening with these charming, lovely, hospitable people.

The architecture of the lodge has a Moroccan influence, has enormous windows in every room with stunning views. The bedrooms also have unusual ‘fluffy’ sheets which we found extremely cosy at 3620m. As night fell, the stars came out, firstly one by one, and then as it got darker, we could see the sky had become full of bright, twinkling stars, flickering like candles in magical worlds from afar.

 

Cotopaxi National Park

As we returned to Cotapaxi National Park the following day, we climbed to an altitude where the glacial moraine reminded us of a lunar landscape with small and large rocks strewn everywhere. We had lunch in a grassy bowl with a spring at its base and then passed close to some Inca ruins.

We found a stream which had created a cut 2m deep into the ground and followed it until we found a point where the bank had collapsed. We descended this steep slope into the stream and followed it, walking along the bottom until we eventually found a way out on the other side.

We headed out onto the open volcanic plains of the Andean highlands with herds of wild horses galloping alongside us, a lake to one side and sugar icing top volcanoes poking out through the clouds. It was exhilarating and magnificent. This is an everlasting memory of the trip and as we cantered side by side, Jane said to Greg “Just look at where we are, look at what we are doing ….. this is amazing.”

Cotopaxi horses Ecuador

Cotopaxi, Ecuador

 

“Amazing was the word for our holiday.”

Many thanks to Jane and Greg for their excellent articles and photos.

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